DIY & Christmas

Tea Stained Picnic Table

Tea Stained Picnic Table – learn to restore a weathered wood patina.

Much Needed Love

We inherited a sturdy, wooden picnic table when we bought a cabin on the river. Located by the fire pit, it saw frequent use and supported many rumps. You know there’s a big but (no pun intended) coming… 

Obviously, it was an outdoor piece and had seen better days. The weathered wood had deteriorated over time to the point we took our lives in our hands – or at least, anticipated a two-foot drop when we sat on it. 

Restored to Former Glory

My husband knew how much I loved the picnic table which led him to replace the wood and restore it to its former glory. Due to the base remaining solid, he planned to use the basic structure. More importantly, he installed brand new wood planks for the side frames and seats. 

Proud to show off his workmanship, he took me by the hand, had me close my eyes, and led me to the new and improved picnic table. I tried not to peak. 

The moment of truth. He urged me to open my eyes. I clapped my hands and hugged him around the neck. The dilapidated picnic table was as sturdy as a house and finally ready to hold rumps safely in place once again. 

Lost Character

Only one problem remained. We were drawn to the weathered look of the picnic table rather than the fresh appearance it now boasted. There’s just something about naturally aged wood. The tabletop and frame remained rough with a faded patina and peeling paint while the sides and seats glowed in contrast. 

We knew we wanted to preserve the rustic look of the picnic table in the river setting. We certainly didn’t want to paint it. I searched for a remedy and finally settled on a process called tea staining. It was worth a shot, and likewise, inexpensive if the experiment failed. 

Tea Stained – Weathered Wood

First of all, gather a few common household supplies:

  • quart mason jar
  • steel wool
  • white vinegar
  • 2 large tea bags
  • 2” wide paintbrush

Next, pull apart a steel wool pad and add the pieces to the quart mason jar. 

Finally, fill the jar with plain white vinegar and put the lid in place.

That’s it. Allow the mixture to do it’s magic overnight. Technically, when steel wool is combined with an acid (vinegar), it causes the steel to oxidize (rust), making iron acetate. I prefer the term, magic. 

The Next Morning 

Steep two large tea bags in 2 – 3 cups of water and let it cool naturally for an hour. Find something to occupy your time; so you don’t rush this process. 

Going with the grain, I lightly sanded the wood with a sander, careful not to exert too much effort. The tabletop and seats received more attention since the peeling paint caused a problem. I removed the loose chips and left the more stubborn paint in place. To create a worn look, I sanded the edges of the wood. 

Ok! Time For Fun!

Brush the steeped tea onto the wood. Don’t be stingy, completely saturate the wood. There’s no worry about going with the grain. Because I worked in the grass, I didn’t use a drop cloth. Most noteworthy, be cautious of splashes from the paintbrush. I got a little carried away and ended up with brown spots all over my legs. No big deal, it washed off easily and didn’t cause a reaction on my skin.  

Let the wood dry completely (or until you can’t take the anticipation any longer).

Brush on the vinegar solution liberally. I used the same brush and didn’t even bother to rinse it out. 

Prepare to Be Amazed!

Technically, tea has tannin, a bitter astringent that occurs naturally in many plants. The vinegar/steel solution (iron acetate) reacts with the tannins, as a result, it turns the wood a dark color. Consequently, you guessed it, it’s simply magical. 

Tea Stained Picnic Table

Once dried, I lightly sanded the picnic table again to give it dimension, paying attention to spots that would naturally show wear.

There you have it, a beautiful Tea Stained Picnic Table!

I couldn’t be happier with the ease of getting it done or the finished product. I certainly recommend the tea staining. 


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